2020 was a year unlike any other. Businesses large and small,
governments new and old all had to completely change what they do and
how they operate. Helping us to manage this dramatic change was
technology. Whether it was Blackboard continuing our children’s
education, Zoom becoming our business boardroom (and our pub), or
Netflix being our night out at the movies, we relied on technology to
help feed our families, teach our children, collaborate with co-workers,
even entertain ourselves after yet another day in the house. Rather than
slow us down, 2020 accelerated our shift to a digital world and I
anticipate we won’t go back any time soon. Thanks to this acceleration,
from my vantage point, 2021 is going to be a launchpad for all kinds of
change, and here are some of the areas that will be driving it.
Prediction ONE: Cloud will be everywhere
The days of all cloud capabilities being centralized in data centers are
beginning to disappear. You can find cloud-based applications helping to
boost the performance of ships out at sea, aircraft traversing the sky,
and in our cars and homes. Access to the compute and storage of the
cloud is spreading out of dense data centers and reaching into rural
communities, remote wilderness, and even near-earth orbit. Practically
speaking, the cloud is going everywhere.
Today, AWS has regions and Points of Presence (PoPs) that enable cloud
technologies to be closer than ever to customers across the world.
Customers are deploying devices like AWS Snowball to gather petabytes of
data from the slopes of volcanoes in Hawaii and research centers in
Antarctica. AWS Outposts, which extend cloud infrastructure and tools
into our customer’s buildings, and AWS Local Zones, which put select
infrastructure close to where customers need it, are helping those in
urban areas to rapidly shrink their cumbersome
datacenters. With AWS IoT Greengrass, edge devices can connect with each
other, whether that is from inside someone’s kitchen or from the
handlebars of a cycle in the gym. As 5G networks expand, operators are
deploying Wavelength Zones so application traffic from 5G devices can
take full advantage of the low latency and high bandwidth. And when fast
connections to the cloud are pushed to the farthest edges of the
network, great things can happen.
By removing latency, and conducting more of the compute on the device at
the edge of the network, we are beginning to overcome the one limitation
that still faces all technology on earth, the speed of light. Those
operations that require very low latency— from autonomous driving, to
natural speech processing and translation, and the active management of
vital infrastructure–no longer need to conduct round trips from remote
corners of the earth to a central server. Tasks can now start to happen
where the results are needed most. The outcome? Driverless cars become
real. You can start to have more natural conversations with services
like Alexa. Our factories, homes, and office spaces become increasingly
efficient and resilient. And if gaming is your thing, not only will you
no longer need to worry about lag hampering your experience, your skills
will also be at full strength, wherever you are.
As the cloud extends out of centralized locations and into the
environments that we live and work in every day, what we will
increasingly see is the same software that runs in the cloud will run
close to you, and that will lead to improvements in all aspects of our
lives, from healthcare to transportation, entertainment, manufacturing,
and more. In 2021, this push to the edge will accelerate.
Prediction TWO. The Internet of machine learning
We are seeing a data explosion. To give this trend context, today we
generate more data in one hour than was created during all of 2000 and
more data will be created in the next three years than was created over
the past 30.
In 2020, whether you were a data scientist or not, we all got a glimpse
of this growing data curve as scientific researchers, pharmaceutical
companies, governments, and healthcare institutes turned every resource
toward developing vaccines, novel treatments, and other means to help
the world stay healthy during the pandemic. All these efforts required
generating and processing vast amounts of data. Whether in healthcare or
other applications, the only realistic way to handle all the information
we are seeing is to use ingestion and aggregation tools, married to
Machine Learning (ML) models that can help make sense of it. It’s no
wonder then that this year ML went mainstream.
ML has historically been a computationally heavy workload that’s
incapable of running anywhere but on the most powerful hardware.
However, with advancements in software and silicon, this will begin to
change. Using a combination of AWS technologies, we’ll see hardware and
software working together at the edge to have a bigger impact than ever.
By moving towards the edge, what we will see in the coming year is an
acceleration of the adoption of ML models across industries and
government. In manufacturing, we will see ML embedded on production
lines, able to spot production anomalies in real time. In agriculture,
ML models will help farmers manage precious resources, such as soil and
water, more intelligently.
For the parts of the world where small-holder farmers are the majority,
across Southeast Asia and Africa for example, pushing the use of ML
models into new applications and the collection of data closer to the
edge will be revolutionary in helping them increase the yield of their
crops and find the best price for their effort.
One AWS customer in Southeast Asia I have spent time with is HARA. Based
in Jakarta, Indonesia, HARA is a great example of this approach in
action. HARA uses ML to analyze data from hundreds of thousands of small
holder farmers across the region. The data collected in their fields by
people and devices includes the seasonal growth cycles of their
farms—what it took to grow their crop, and what they were able to earn
That analysis not only helps farmers get access to reasonable credit,
but as the pandemic has continued, HARA is using its platform to
identify the places and people who need food the most, match them with
the farmers who have it, and figure out the logistics in between. Yes,
this is a hard, human problem, but technology is ready to help solve it.
As ML continues to expand, we will also see an explosion in
machine-to-machine (M2M) connections. In 2018, only 33% of connections
on the internet were M2M according to Cisco’s annual internet report. If
you have an Echo, any smart home gadget, or are following how cars and
trucks are quickly evolving, you can already see what’s coming–a
proliferation of sensors and devices connected to the cloud and each
other. In 2021, I see M2M hitting 50% of all connections and ramping
higher from there.
With this rise in M2M connections feeding data into more ML models, we
are starting to see more custom silicon, tailored for ML. With AWS
Inferentia, we are beginning to see how we can drive down the costs of
ML in terms of power and compute. As those costs continue to decrease
and performance increases, we’ll see ML use-cases performing the
computation and building new models at the edge. It’s a game-changer for
applications that require very low latency.
For a real-world example, take the wildfires that consumed the
Australian bush and the West Coast of the United States in 2020. In the
future, ML models running in devices at the edge can help us predict
fire danger by modeling current second-by-second conditions against
historic conflagrations—on the ground—rather than back in a central
data center. This will result in data to help agencies prevent and fight
fires, as well as a more accurate, and faster version of the “fire
hazard risk today” signs we see around the world. As with developing
safe, effective vaccines, getting food to people who need it most, or
tackling the effects of climate change like wildfires, technology and
technologists in partnership with policymakers and communities can have
a positive impact on the world around us.
Prediction THREE: In 2021, pictures, video, and audio will speak more than words
A few years ago, in an article for Wired, I talked about the death of
the keyboard due to the rapid rise of voice-activated computing, and the
rise of user interfaces that allow humans to communicate with machines,
and with each other, in a much more natural way.
As we move into 2021 and beyond, I predict this phasing out of the
keyboard will continue, but in an evolved way.
In the past year, and as we all entered into the depths of lockdown, we
increasingly communicated via audio, video, and images. As a result, the
amount of text we consume on our screens is being reduced as we make
much more use of multimedia to communicate. On the average day on
Twitter, 80% of messages contain some kind of image or video, or are
just an image or video. Over the summer, Twitter began to roll out audio
tweets for iOS users, further acknowledging the trend. Some of this has
been enabled by the rapid reduction in the cost and ability to store
data in the cloud.
Companies who want to stay relevant to their customers need to be keenly
aware of these changing habits, rather than relying on keyboard, mouse,
or other mechanical ways of asking customers to interact with their
products and services. When it comes to building relationships and
transacting with a brand, customers want to do what is natural, so
companies should explore this move away from the keyboard and towards
more natural user interfaces. Alexa already allows customers to conduct
their Amazon shopping with their voice, and we are excited about the
adoption we are seeing there.
This shift to more natural forms of communication will also enable
greater equity when it comes to accessing services and information for
all of us. For those that never learned to read or write, their voice
might be their only mode to access information. In Ghana, for example, a
company like Cow Tribe dispatches vaccines, feed, or a veterinarian to a
cow herder in need, via simple voice commands. People with disabilities
who can’t navigate a touchpad or keyboard, can tell a screen to show
them photos from last summer, order food from a nearby restaurant, or
ask a smart speaker to call the kids.
And don’t forget all that video, audio, and all those images—on
Twitter and elsewhere— also becomes a source of data that will offer
new insights and prompt new products and services. Think about music. As
we made the transition to digital music, audio became a source of data
for analysis to not just play your favorite song, but also offer new
ways to follow trends, discover new artists, and draw on the entire
history of music, genres, and artists to match the music to a mood, a
few words, or a place.
In 2021 and beyond, the use of audio, video, and images will continue to
replace written text in everything from social platforms to business
operations, and cloud technologies will play a significant role in
meeting that demand.
Prediction FOUR: Technology will transform our physical worlds as much as our digital worlds
In 2020 we were introduced to social distancing. As we spaced ourselves
out, it gave us all the chance to take stock and rethink how our cities
live, breathe, and flow. Many of the places we live and work have been
built on decades-old assumptions (or centuries-old, depending on where
you live) that don’t hold up anymore—or at the very least, don’t
perform well in a pandemic.
With the help of advanced data analytics, 2021 is the year when we will
start to figure out how to better design our cities to give us the
advantages of social distancing, without feeling so distant. Our
planning will consider things like how we make our communities healthier
and safer, rather than simply denser and more efficient. It’s the true
convergence of the digital and the physical.
For example, using advanced data analytics technologies and ML, cities
will be able to analyze foot traffic to understand how pedestrians move
around, whether that is filing into a stadium, out of a grocery store,
or onto a subway platform. Big-box stores have been using a version of
this technology for many years to analyze the foot traffic at any given
moment, and help move people in real-time past the best deals or
But add ML models to the tool kit, with a desire to solve tougher
real-world problems, and we can spot the bottlenecks and the danger
spots before they occur. We can start to predict hour-by-hour pedestrian
traffic and offer suggestions for how to safely move through our cities
and institutions during the height of summer’s tourist season or in the
middle of winter’s flu season. Consider a museum. With the aid of these
technologies we’ll soon understand how best to place the artwork, or
design the exits from a bathroom to prevent people from bumping into
each other and maintain a safe social distance.
Another physical transformation we will see is less social and more
financial—the rapidly vanishing need for cash in our pockets. One of
the biggest changes from the pandemic has been the rise of cashless
payments. In some bars and restaurants around the world, cash is
forbidden. As a result, we have seen the dramatic rise in new online
payment platforms whose businesses are built in the cloud, and whose
underlying encryption and ledger systems—blockchain is one
example—are cloud-based as well. Those options will only proliferate
as the world increasingly accelerates to digital technologies that
replace antiquated, centuries-old approaches.
Prediction FIVE: Remote learning earns its place in education
Over the past few years we have seen radical change in almost every
industry, with one glaring exception–education. Most educational
institutes have operated in a similar way to when I was in school, many,
many, many years ago. And while we’ve slowly started to see change here
through online options such as Coursera, or services like Chegg, with
COVID-19 education was forced to go through a rapid reinvention, almost
more than any other industry. And it isn’t going back.
Recently, I talked to some high school students in Warsaw, Poland who
use the online learning service Brainly to keep up with their school
work and help each other through classes. Tools like Brainly have
exploded as desperate parents are making sure their kids are learning in
this new, remote educational reality.
Technology, and access to it, has played a huge role in children’s
education during this pandemic. This next year is when we’re going to
prove that remote learning can work and may be a better option for some,
and that it can have a positive, and more persistent role in education.
Another good example is the work Kimberly Bryant, the founder of Black
Girls CODE (BGC), is doing. Like all educators, Kimberly was forced to
conduct her computer science curriculum for girls ages 7-17 online
during the pandemic. In a typical year BGC might reach 5,500 students in
its classrooms but in just one month of virtual sessions this spring, it
reached almost half that annual number, with girls joining from all over
the world. Kimberly says BGC won’t go back to only in-person teaching,
she has seen the scale she can hit, and the girls she can
help—wherever they are.
The pandemic, as with many other changes we have witnessed this year,
forced us to adapt. But we don’t need a global health crisis for classes
online to make sense. Having remote
schooling (and working) options widely available at any time also means
that kids can stay home when they are sick, but still get their
education and not fall behind classmates. Or what if there is no school
to go to at all? If there is an internet connection there is at least
the possibility for some kind of education.
No question, I think we should send our kids back to classrooms, and to
each other, but there will be other interruptions. Remote classes give
school systems, and students, the flexibility to respond to unforeseen
events, whether pandemics, natural disasters, or manmade calamities–to
keep the learning going.
Prediction SIX: Small businesses will race to the cloud, and Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa will lead the way
In 2021 and beyond, we’re going to see a massive shift in small
businesses beginning to make use of advanced cloud technology to reach
their customers and we’re going to see an explosion of higher-level
technologies and service providers—that will cater to these small
businesses. It will be helping small business to do everything from
spinning up a chatbot to help with answering frequently asked questions,
to getting a dead-simple CRM system in place and running within minutes.
Small business get the benefits of sophisticated architectures and
applications without having to invest in the time and expense of
building it themselves.
The cloud everywhere trend described above is what is enabling this.
What is driving it is the experience that most small businesses faced
this past year where, in many cases, the difference between surviving
and not was an ability to leverage technology. A little-known fact is
that only 47 percent of small and medium businesses in the US have their
own website. Expect this number to grow in 2021. Expanding this trend
globally, we should look to nations in Southeast Asia including
Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam and in Africa—Kenya,
Nigeria, and South Africa to lead the way.
Before 2020, I used to spend a lot of my time in these parts of the
world, talking with customers and listening to their stories of how they
are using technology to overcome local challenges. In my time in these
regions I have seen a great potential amongst their small, and medium
sized businesses and have always been inspired by their stories. In
sub-Saharan Africa, 90 percent of all companies are small businesses,
which make up 40 percent of GDP, and account for $700 billion in the
economy. In Southeast Asian countries, small and micro businesses
account for 99 percent of businesses in several key sectors, most
notably tourism and handicrafts. Online penetration in these countries
is already among the highest in the world so going online allows small
and micro businesses to reach beyond their communities and stay trading
even when their worlds are shutting down around them.
A good example is Warung Pintar, in Indonesia, which combines both the
technical services and the small business side with its cloud-connected
food stands. Picture the roadside food and sundry stands that are
ubiquitous in Indonesia, and across SE Asia and other parts of the
world—in Latin America you might call them a tiendita. These very
places are usually run by a solo-operator and you can get a cold drink,
a snack, and top up your mobile. Warung Pintar’s version offers all of
that, but the stall and its operations are connected to the cloud. A
Warung Pintar stall operator now gets inventory management and tracking,
sales analytics, cashless payments, WIFI, and more, all in a bright
yellow package. Operators of these stalls might have previously relied
solely on passing foot traffic but can now start to know and nurture
their customer base. Previously, the items they stocked and sold were
sourced mostly on gut feel, but they can now analyze and understand
what’s making them money and what’s just taking up scarce space.
As these small businesses bring their unique perspectives and often
craft goods to the world, expect them to begin to leapfrog a lot of
the business practices we see in more
established countries. These countries are not burdened with legacy
technology or legacy
thinking around what is possible for them, so the sky is the limit.
Prediction SEVEN: Quantum Computing starts to bloom
Something we have seen again and again in the past is if you can
democratize the most advanced, most complex technology and make it
affordable, available, and understandable to as many people as possible,
great things happen.
At re:Invent 2019 we announced Amazon Braket, a fully managed quantum
computing service that helps researchers and developers get started with
the technology to accelerate research and discovery, and in 2020 we made
it available to everyone. Before Amazon Braket, you needed to be one of
the world’s most advanced research institutes or one of the world’s
richest companies to have access to quantum computing hardware. With
Amazon Braket, anyone can now use quantum machines for as little as
There is no question we are at the early stages of this mind-bending
approach to computing, but that is the point of Braket. It’s especially
important in this exploratory time that we let as many people as
possible get their hands dirty and their brains wrapped around quantum
computing. As companies and institutions begin to experiment with
quantum for the first time, and as that expertise starts to move beyond
the academic world, we’ll see business plans and the early seeds of
products and services that center around a quantum future. That is where
experimentation with Braket comes into play. As we have seen with ML,
when the software ecosystem can truly leverage the hardware, we will see
thousands of applications take shape.
In time, likely over the next decade or so, you will see quantum
computing transform areas such as chemical engineering, material
science, drug discovery, financial portfolio optimization, machine
learning, and more. But it only does that if a growing diversity of
people start to imagine a way forward. Based on our experience with
making advanced cloud technologies affordable, available, and
understandable to everyone, 2021 will be the year the quantum computer
starts to bloom.
Prediction EIGHT: The final frontier…
For technology to fulfill its potential to help everyone around the
world to live a better life, we shouldn’t go out and around the world
as much as we should go up and above it. In 2019, we launched a
service called AWS Ground Station that lets you control satellite
communications, process data, and scale your operations without having
to worry about building or managing your own ground station
infrastructure. We have seen a fantastic uptake in this service, but we
think it is only just the beginning. In 2021 and beyond, I predict space
will be the area where we see some of the greatest advancements when it
comes to cloud technologies.
We’re already seeing that the ability to access and process satellite
data is helping researchers to track glacial recession, maritime
agencies protect vulnerable marine reserves, and agronomists better
predict food supply. Startups are looking to make space the home for a
new breed of fast, secure networks. By making access to space affordable
and accessible to every developer, I’m looking forward to seeing the
innovations that come back down to earth and can help us all to grow and